Florida Gulf Coast’s Boston Connection

For two seasons, coach Andy Enfield was an assistant under Rick Pitino.

For a few more days at least, Florida Gulf Coast University will remain the most-beloved college basketball team in the nation. The Eagles are the first 15-seed in NCAA tournament history to advance to the Sweet 16, where’ll they’ll face third-seeded Florida on Friday. Hell, there’s already speculation that their coach, Andy Enfield, will bolt soon for a nationally prominent program.

But before the public even knew who he was, he was then-Celtics coach Rick Pitino’s young assistant. Back in 1998, when Boston hired him, Enfield was a 29-year-old shooting guru. (As a player at Johns Hopkins he shot an NCAA-record 92.5 percent from the free throw line.) Alonzo Mourning, Grant Hill, and Glen Rice were a few of his clients.

“Everyone was after him,” Pitino told the Globe’s Peter May in February 1999. “The reason we got him was that he wasn’t going to be just a shooting coach. He was going to learn to be a coach. He doesn’t want to be a shot doctor. He wants to be a coach.”

Enfield was tasked with trying to turn then-franchise cornerstone Antoine Walker into a purer shooter. For a time, Enfield’s methods seemed to work. Even though the Celtics missed the playoffs that lockout-shortened season, Walker’s stroke improved. In April 1999, May and Shira Springer led a Globe story with a note about Enfield’s work:

Walker had 32 points in yesterday’s disappointing 91-79 loss to the Nets, but he took only 18 shots. He also was 12 of 13 from the line, continuing his Chris Dudley-Rick Barry transformation. Since going 5 for 11 in the Cleveland debacle March 23, Walker is 29 for 33 from the line. He’s also had five double-figure rebound games in that stretch.

Walker gave a lot of credit to assistant coach Andy Enfield, who has been working hard with him on his low-post moves and free throws. “He’s got me in a routine,” Walker said. Added coach Rick Pitino, “Antoine has gotten significantly better in the last 10 days.”

The partnership didn’t last. Before the start of the 1999-2000 season, Enfield resigned in order to, as Paul Doyle of the Hartford Courant put it, “pursue a career with a venture capital partnership in New York.” That apparently entailed getting in on the ground floor of a company called TractManager, which Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden reported is worth “much more” than the $100 million figure that’s been circulating in recent days.

Since then, Enfield has returned to coaching. He spent five years as an assistant at Florida State before taking the Florida Gulf Coast job in 2011, more than a decade after landing the Celtics gig. “I had a few opportunities,” Enfield told May back in ’99, “but the chance to work for Rick Pitino and Jim O’Brien and the Boston Celtics was too good. How can you beat that?”

I think he’s finally found an answer to that question.

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